Three Woman and a Boat–book review

Three Women and a Boat, by Anne Youngson

Inspired, of course, by Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, but updated and given a gender twist, Three Women and a Boat is a feminist book. All three of the women characters (four, including a young friend) are out in the world without being beholden to, or reliant on men.  They’re complete. There are men around, but the story is not about their relationships, but the women themselves. And there’s a dog like the one in Jerome’s version, who sparks some of the action, as dogs tend to do.

Anastasia has lived most of her life on a canal barge. But she’s ill, needs to take a break for treatments and is looking for someone to take her boat, The Number One, north to the yards in Uxbridge to get overhauled.

Continue reading “Three Woman and a Boat–book review”

Reimagining a colonial past in Manhattan

Oratamin meets Stuyvesant

In the Natural History Museum in New York is a diorama that has two shots at telling history, emphasising the fluidity of historiography. It’s an unexpected display in a nation that seems to have a very strong idea of its historical story, with legends of the founding fathers and the war of independence and the civil war circulating ad infinitum. This is a culture that celebrates success. And yet, here is evidence in prime position of this great national institution that states: we got this wrong.

Continue reading “Reimagining a colonial past in Manhattan”

Why We Sleep – book review

Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker

I think this is the first time I’ve reviewed a self help book. They’re not really my thing. I place them in the same category as people who start sentences with: “You know what you should do?” The answer is usually to get on with something more interesting than whatever it is they think I need help with.

But I do need help with sleep.

Continue reading “Why We Sleep – book review”

Planting a forest

With Dad’s Army at Ocean Beach

We’re building a new forest on the hills at Ocean Beach in Hawke’s Bay. There’s a strip of land behind the sanctuary fence where a gap between the pines and the sand dunes – once farm land – is being lovingly covered in native plants.

I say lovingly because the whole project is wrapped in aroha, from the care with which the seedlings are planted to the breathing living forest on the hill. It’s a beautiful place with magnificent views down the coast; now thick with healthy New Zealand natives and full of birds.

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Writing and the dark subconscious

Writing during lockdown

Every morning now I wake after dreaming of isolation. It makes it hard to write.

It’s as if there’s a place in my subconscious that has gone very dark and is holding all the fears I don’t confront during the day.

I force myself to linger in that half-state to capture a fragment and make sense of it, but there’s nothing to catch; just a feeling of unease, an unexplained fear. I have never been able to step into my dreams and haul out a story and I am suspicious of those who say they can. All I can ever bring across that barrier are moods and shots of disassociated things, like photographs of a past I no longer remember. I haven’t ever drunk so much I don’t remember what happened the night before, but it must be a post-dream feeling: waking up on someone’s sofa, remembering scrambling noises, a cat rubbing and mewing to be fed, crowds of people gathered before a high fence, something bad. Continue reading “Writing and the dark subconscious”

Brickbat for Jerningham

For his 199th birthday

Today is Jerningham Wakefield’s 199th birthday. Happy Birthday, you old thing.

Jerningham came to Wellington with the New Zealand Company in 1839, the thin edge of the colonial wedge.  For that we can throw many brickbats. And hey, it’s his birthday! So here is my favourite Jerningham brickbat: a letter to the editor from a missionary, in reaction to Jerningham’s recently published Adventure in New Zealand.

It’s a hell of a book review. Jerningham and the missionaries never did see eye to eye Continue reading “Brickbat for Jerningham”

Whangaroa: running with ghosts

Vibrations of the Boyd Massacre

A man on a boat told me to run the Wairakau Stream to the Duke’s Nose, which sounded my type of thing. I took my friend M with me, a Spanish lady who was staying at the YHA, who is so intimidatingly spiritual she talks of her body as a separate person. She listens to her body, and does what it tells her. It told her to come with me into the forest, so off we went.

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Running the Oromahoe Traverse

and killing characters on the run

I’m on a bit of a roll with my running around Paihia series. Here’s a good, one way, one hour run. The Oromahoe is a ridge-line run through the Opua Forest which ends in Paihia. It’s a little over 6km one way, with a few short, sharp ups and downs. You can’t get lost.

I went early for a gorgeous start to the morning. There are a few glimpses of view through the trees, but no real lookouts to the spectacular Bay of Islands, tantalisingly out of sight below. Continue reading “Running the Oromahoe Traverse”

In the Captain’s bathroom

On board the Polly Woodside

It’s rare to walk around a museum in a ship. The Polly Woodside is just that; it is a wee historical treasure berthed on the South Bank at Melbourne. At first glance she looks uninspiring, locked in with boardwalks and surrounded by restaurants and bars, a big iron hulk of a thing with shabby paintwork and painted gun ports. It’s hard to get a sense of her scale and grace when you’re peering over the fence and the music’s blaring. We walked past her a couple of times before deciding to go back. Continue reading “In the Captain’s bathroom”

William Curling Young

I went to the Nelson archives to find Captain Arthur Wakefield, agent of the New Zealand Company and uncle to Jerningham (about whom I’m writing a book). There are folders of transcribed letters, mostly from Arthur to his brother William Wakefield. I passed over the stiff official missives, but there are lots of gossipy, friendly letters, all signed yours affy, as if the word “affectionately” was too formal for such brotherly love. They are intimate letters and even a hundred and seventy-seven years later feel immediate, the sentiment easy to read. Arthur has a mixed retrospective reputation but I like him and he has a seat at my table any time he wants to show up.

But I got side-tracked by another story in the archives.  Filed between Arthur’s letters were those of William Curling Young, writing home to England from colonial Nelson. William was 28.

His father was a director of the New Zealand Company Continue reading “William Curling Young”

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